Thousands of AT&T Southwest Mobility workers in Texas represented by the Communications Workers of America union have voted 98% in favor of authorizing a strike as their contract with Dallas-based AT&T is set to expire Friday.
The contract covers retail workers, call center customer service representatives and technicians.
Bargaining over a new contract between the CWA-represented employees and AT&T has been ongoing since February 4. CWA's 8,000 Southwest Mobility workers account for roughly 3% of the company, according to AT&T. They span Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Kansas and Arkansas and nearly half of the workers are in Texas.
The authorization vote does not necessarily mean workers will strike, but provides them the ability to do so. In August, 20,000 AT&T workers went on strike in nine states across the southeastern U.S. protesting what union leaders described as unfair labor practices in contract negotiations.
"AT&T Mobility workers in the Southwest are not afraid to do whatever it takes to make sure that the company invests in its employees so that we can build and support the next generation networks that our communities need," CWA staff representative Jason Vellmer said in a statement. "We have made progress toward a fair contract over the last few days, but several critical issues remain unresolved."
Union negotiators have said they'll be seeking wage and benefit increases and "a commitment to keeping good, family-supporting jobs in the region."
"A strike vote is a routine, not unexpected step in negotiations of this sort and is often a part of the process," AT&T spokesman Jim Kimberly said in a statement to The Dallas Morning News. "We're continuing to bargain with the union, and we're committed to reaching a fair agreement that will allow us to continue to provide solid union-represented jobs with competitive wages and benefits. We're confident an agreement will be reached."
Job cuts at AT&T have been a particular point of concern for the CWA-backed workers. AT&T's workforce numbers have been declining in recent months. AT&T has cut more than 37,000 jobs since the Trump administration's tax cuts took effect in 2018, according to the union.
In its latest quarterly results, AT&T reported it has 4,040 fewer employees than three months before. The company had 247,800 employees at the end of 2019.
The CWA reiterated its concern about activist investor Elliott Management's influence over AT&T's operations in its latest release detailing the strike authorization vote. The hedge fund company bought a $3.2 billion position in AT&T in September issuing a four-part plan to boost the company's stock price above $60 by the end of 2021.
"Elliott is pushing AT&T to extract profits from the company by eliminating jobs, outsourcing work, and divesting critical assets," the CWA-backed workers said in the release.
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